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Intertexte ou lecture par défaut ? Les Épigrammes de Martial dans l'œuvre en prose de Mixail Čulkov

Revue des études slaves
PERSEE Program
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3406/slave.2000.6642
  • Literature


Martial's Epigrams and Mikhail Čulkov's prose works of fiction Mixail Čulkov's prose is one of the most commented on works of eighteenth century Russian literature. Strangely enough though, not much attention has been yet paid to the study of its intertextuality. As for the study of its antique intertextuality, it hasn't been done at all, though the famous Soviet scholar V. P. Stepanov mentioned its importance. One could probably find ideological causes to explain this lack of attention. During the Soviet period, Čulkov's works were thought to illustrate the genius of ignorant popular Russian writers, who were not supposed to have had any knowledge of classical literature. Still, it seems to me that Čulkov knew some of the Greek and Latin Classics quite well, even if he might have read some of them only partially and/or in translation. As for Martial's Epigrams, since they hadn't yet been translated in eighteenth-century Russia, I think that Čulkov might have read them directly in Latin, for he had studied the language at Moscow University's Gymnasium. Indeed many common elements can be found in both authors' set of themes. In particular, I am referring to the theme of the poet's poverty and his constant moaning about it. This theme is found in both works through the use of similar motifs (the poet constantly talks about money, complains about the worn state of his coat, advises younger poets against choosing this profession, complains about the lack of a patron, resents Apollo and the Muses that chose him, and envies uneducated but rich people). I don't agree with A. V. Západov, who thought these motifs could be linked to the rise of a culture specific to the middle class in eighteenth century Russia (there was no such a class yet), nor with John Garrard, who related them to Čulkov's own biography (biography was not yet considered as good material for fictional prose). I think the motives have an intertextual origin. They come from Martial's Epigrams and feed Culkov's set of themes at the same time as they introduce auto-irony into his prose. They also contribute to transforming the voice of the narrator into quite a new figure in the Russian literature of that time: the author, seen as a character taking part in the fiction. Thus, the Epigrams, which were precisely the ideal material for Čulkov's satirical journals (epigrams are always short, lively and comic, they describe a conventional reality which is well adapted to 18th century Russian literature, which doesn't dare or want to describe the world around), provided technical assistance to the rise of fictional prose in Russia. All this demonstrates that Martial's works were known in eighteenth-century Russia, and that fictional prose didn't rise in opposition to the culture of Classicism, but absorbed it and turned it into its own set of themes. Finally, the fact that Čulkov hid his debt to Martial seems to me to be specific of Russian prose of that time, which, unlike poetry, refuses to consider literary citation as an esthetic function, and regards this dissimulation as characteristic of its own esthetics.

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